Controlling for anthropogenically induced atmospheric variation in stable carbon isotope studies

By: , and 



Increased use of stable isotope analysis to examine food-web dynamics, migration, transfer of nutrients, and behavior will likely result in expansion of stable isotope studies investigating human-induced global changes. Recent elevation of atmospheric CO2 concentration, related primarily to fossil fuel combustion, has reduced atmospheric CO2 ??13C (13C/12C), and this change in isotopic baseline has, in turn, reduced plant and animal tissue ??13C of terrestrial and aquatic organisms. Such depletion in CO2 ??13C and its effects on tissue ??13C may introduce bias into ??13C investigations, and if this variation is not controlled, may confound interpretation of results obtained from tissue samples collected over a temporal span. To control for this source of variation, we used a high-precision record of atmospheric CO2 ??13C from ice cores and direct atmospheric measurements to model modern change in CO2 ??13C. From this model, we estimated a correction factor that controls for atmospheric change; this correction reduces bias associated with changes in atmospheric isotopic baseline and facilitates comparison of tissue ??13C collected over multiple years. To exemplify the importance of accounting for atmospheric CO2 ??13C depletion, we applied the correction to a dataset of collagen ??13C obtained from mountain lion (Puma concolor) bone samples collected in California between 1893 and 1995. Before correction, in three of four ecoregions collagen ??13C decreased significantly concurrent with depletion of atmospheric CO2 ??13C (n ??? 32, P ??? 0.01). Application of the correction to collagen ??13C data removed trends from regions demonstrating significant declines, and measurement error associated with the correction did not add substantial variation to adjusted estimates. Controlling for long-term atmospheric variation and correcting tissue samples for changes in isotopic baseline facilitate analysis of samples that span a large temporal range. ?? Springer-Verlag 2005.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Controlling for anthropogenically induced atmospheric variation in stable carbon isotope studies
Series title Oecologia
DOI 10.1007/s00442-005-0181-6
Volume 146
Issue 1
Year Published 2005
Language English
Larger Work Type Article
Larger Work Subtype Journal Article
Larger Work Title Oecologia
First page 148
Last page 156